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Flames Hoping Pressure Gets To Favoured Sharks

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CALGARY - What can make the pulse race faster, the adrenaline pump quicker and, it has to be said, a certain part of the lower anatomy clench tighter than Game 7 of an NHL playoff series?

The Calgary Flames feel the first two and hope the San Jose Sharks experience the latter in Tuesday's Game 7 of their Western Conference quarter-final series.

The Flames have been in this scenario before, but on the Sharks' side of it.

Two years ago, favoured Calgary led Anaheim 3-2 in the first round, but was eliminated after losing Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home.

The Sharks, the No. 2 team in the NHL this season behind Detroit, led this series 3-2 and lost Game 6 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The Flames, ranked 14th, have already stared down elimination once and carry momentum from their 2-0 victory Sunday into Game 7.

San Jose will host a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history at HP Pavilion and face elimination for the first time in this series.

Flames captain Jarome Iginla remembers the pressure his team felt two years ago when they were in a similar situation to what the Sharks are in now.

''It did get to us back then,'' Iginla said Monday of the series against Anaheim. ''We went into Game 6 in Anaheim and it was a close series. We were the third seed and they were the sixth seed.

''We went in there . . . and lost in overtime. It was deflating and we were coming back trying to regroup. We definitely did feel the pressure.

''As much as we hope that's the case in San Jose, the feeling is we're going to concentrate more on ourselves and just think of what we want to do.''

The scores have been tight in this series with four of the six decided by one goal and the other two by a pair.

The Flames played their most complete game of the series in Game 6 and established a formula for upsetting the Sharks in Tuesday's decider if they choose to follow it again.

Calgary owned the boards, cycled the puck low in the offensive zone and didn't give the Sharks' top snipers - Joe Thornton, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau - time or space to make plays.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was outstanding and while forwards Kristian Huselius, Alex Tanguay, Matthew Lombardi and Craig Conroy remained scoreless, they took away scoring chances from San Jose with hard work and the willingness to pay a physical price to get to the puck.

Huselius, in particular, was a revelation for even Flames head coach Mike Keenan, who has coached the Swede both in Florida and now in Calgary.

''That's the best hockey game I've seen him play,'' Keenan said. ''I think it was important for Kristian to step out of the box and find a different place to live and have a different existence on the ice.''

Calgary needs to bring the same effort for the second game in a row, but their trademark this season and this series has been inconsistency.

San Jose has more talent up front and Nabokov, named one of three nominees for the Vezina Trophy on Monday, is a key reason why the Sharks had the second-lowest goals-against in the league.

The same desperation that snapped the Flames into full concentration in Game 6 should have the same effect on the Sharks.

''You don't want to come in thinking 'Oh my god, what if we lose?''' Tanguay said. ''You want to be thinking 'if I get into position, I'm going to put the puck in.'

''Positive thoughts are helpful during the regular season and it's no different in a Game 7.''

Nineteen players on the Calgary Flames' roster have experience in post-season Game 7s, compared to 10 in the Sharks' lineup.

Keenan will become the NHL's all-time leader in Game 7 coaching with his 10th on Tuesday, which surpasses Scotty Bowman, Pat Burns and Pat Quinn at nine each. Keenan's record is 5-4.

He says playing a Game 7 with white knuckles is not conducive to winning it.

''Intensity is different than being tense,'' he said. ''Being tense is debilitating. To play with intensity is energizing.''

The Sharks would fall far with a first-round loss as they were expected to contend for a Stanley Cup. The Flames see winning Game 7 as a powerful springboard into the second round.

''Potentially, we know if we can get this game, it would be a huge boost going into Round 2,'' Iginla said. ''To win a Game 7 would be a huge feeling and not just to win it, but to come back from behind down and finding a way against the No. 2 seed and the hottest team would be a great feeling.''

Notes(at) - Flames forward Stephane Yelle will become the NHL's active leader in Game 7 appearances with his 11th on Tuesday . . . The Sharks are 3-2 in Game 7s, which have all been on the road . . . The Flames are 5-6 in Game 7s and 3-2 on the road in them . . . The last time Calgary won a Game 7 was in double overtime in Vancouver in a Western Conference quarter-final in 2004. The Flames went on to lose the Stanley Cup final in Game 7 to the Lightning in Tampa Bay that year.
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